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The Wrong Read – Episode 6: Is It Time to Worry About Amari Cooper?

Welcome to the sixth installment of “The Wrong Read,” an article series that reflects on recent podcast episodes, pushing the ideas explored therein to their logical ends, or something near enough. Does this series have any continuity from one piece to the next? No. But you can still read the others too, starting with the first article.

If you’ve listened to any of the RotoViz podcasts this week, you probably heard someone talking about Amari Cooper. Cooper has been inconceivably bad this year, catching only 12 passes on 31 targets. Through four games, he has only 110 receiving yards. The Dynasty Tradecast featured a debate over whether Cooper has more dynasty value than Todd Gurley. Specifically, they discussed a Twitter poll that gave Gurley a 76 percent edge, despite the fact that Cooper was a No. 4 overall pick and is one of only nine players to have 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons, and that wide receivers tend to have longer careers conducive to greater value in dynasty.

On the RotoViz Fantasy Football Show, Shawn and Pat were joined by guest Pat Fitzmaurice to discuss the sort of trade offers they might entertain for Cooper. Shawn notes that he had to seriously consider an offer involving Chris Thompson straight up (in redraft). And on the Fantasy Football Report, guest Eric McClung told Anthony and me that he thinks Cooper should get LASIK surgery, even if Cooper believes his vision is fine. Or, at the very least, a surgeon should tell Cooper he performed the procedure to help him benefit from the placebo effect.

All of this discussion came after an outing against the Broncos in which Cooper caught only two of his eight targets for nine receiving yards. Granted, Denver is pretty good at defending wide receivers, and Derek Carr injured his back and played only 63 percent of the team’s snaps. But this is just the most recent episode in a season that has been beyond disappointing for Cooper’s fantasy owners. Given how poorly Cooper has played, is it time to start worrying about his long-term prospects? Are we at the point where we can ask, what if Cooper is a massive bust?

What if Amari Cooper is a Massive Bust?

We are at that point, because I’m asking that question. Given Cooper’s collegiate profile, his draft stock, and his production thus far in his career, how likely is it that Cooper will never return to the form we became accustomed to over the previous two seasons. How likely is it that Cooper, say, never has another 1,000-yard season? A 1,000-yard season is usually sufficient for a top-24 WR finish. If Cooper fails to record another WR2 season in his career, he’d be an epic disappointment, considering what he cost his current dynasty owners. Cooper is currently the WR68 in PPR scoring and is on pace to finish the season with only 440 receiving yards.1

How Often Do Players Like Cooper Bust?

Of the nine players to accomplish the two 1,000-yard seasons in the first two years feat, two of them never had another 1,000-yard season in their careers. Bill Groman and Bob Hayes both played before the AFL-NFL merger, and neither were able to gain 1,000 receiving yards in a season after doing it twice in their first two seasons.

If we limit our search only to post-merger players, all seven who have accomplished the feat have recorded at least one more 1,000-yard season. Post-merger players who gain 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first two seasons go on to have a 1,000-yard season three more times, on average, over their careers. Keep in mind, however, that three of the six non-Cooper players to have done it are still active, so there’s a good chance that average will rise.2

This sample is pretty small, but definitely encouraging for Cooper’s owners. If he does fail to achieve another 1,000-yard season, he would be the first in this group in the post-merger era. But what if we expand the sample to include players who’ve managed two 1,000-yard seasons early in their careers, but not necessarily in their first two? After all, some players who might have joined this group may have lost seasons to injury, and some may not have seen the field much early in their careers. Widening the player pool should give us a better sample.3

Since 1970, 94 NFL receivers other than Cooper have recorded two 1,000-yard seasons in their first five years in the NFL. Of that group, 72 recorded more than two 1,000-yard seasons over the course of their careers. Basically, players who achieve two 1,000-yard seasons early in their careers tend to do it again. So based simply on Cooper’s first two seasons, he’s got an excellent chance to repeat.

What Could Indicate a Potential Bust?

We can dig a little deeper: what, if anything, distinguishes the successes from the failures? The table below shows the differences in terms of draft position, athletic measurables, and collegiate production.

Repeated 1000-Yard Season? Draft Position Height Weight Forty Vertical Leap Broad Jump Shuttle Cone Dominator Rating Breakout Age
Yes 78.43 72.99 201.42 4.49 35.67 120.03 4.20 6.97 40.29% 19.94
No 89.95 72.90 202.36 4.47 36.23 119.40 4.17 6.91 40.38% 19.49

The only significant difference here is draft position—the successes are drafted, on average, nearly 12 spots earlier than the failures. In every other way, successes and failures look almost identical—in fact the failures appear to have marginally better athletic measurables and collegiate production.4 This is good news for Cooper, who was drafted fourth overall. No player in the group of failures was drafted as early as Cooper.

How Do We Play This?

This is simply one aspect of Cooper’s complete profile as an NFL player, but history says it is highly unlikely Cooper sustains this level of badness. With Carr out, and an upcoming matchup against a tough Baltimore pass defense, I’m not betting on Cooper to turn his season around within the next few days or perhaps even weeks. But Cooper’s first two seasons have been historically good. Given his draft stock and his NFL career to this point, it would really be hard for him to fail—in many ways, it would be unprecedented.

Now, of course, even if Cooper has another 1,000-yard season, he could still disappoint owners—expectations are for much more than that. But based on what we’ve seen so far from Cooper, and what other players with similar profiles and careers have done, now would appear to be the time to buy, especially in dynasty. Don’t worry—just get Cooper on your fantasy teams. But maybe wait a week.

  1. Although, just as we say extremely efficient season-long paces are unsustainable, the same ought to be said for extreme inefficiency. Cooper’s 3.55 yards per target is bound to regress upward, I hope.  (back)
  2. And two of those players, Odell Beckham and Mike Evans, have only played three full seasons. A.J. Green is the other active receiver on the list. In case you were wondering, Green is one of only two players to have 1,000 yards or more in each of his first five seasons. The other is Randy Moss, who reached the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first six seasons.  (back)
  3. To be sure, the fact that Cooper and the others in the 1,000-yards-in-each-of-their-first-two-seasons club were so impressive at a young age is an extremely strong signal. The comparison to players who took a year or two to break out may not as accurate as we hope. But for the sake of enlarging the sample, we’ll take what we can get.  (back)
  4. But it’s close enough that the differences here are probably not meaningful.  (back)

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